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600 bhp, 3.8 V8 twin-turbo McLaren MP4-12C... for 2011
Genuine F1 racing with carbon chassis technology

For the core
high-performance sports cars category

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McLaren MP4-12C: front - side view.

12C: technology of the ultimate segment in the core category.

24 Sep. 2009,
B. Aboul-Nasr
.

Launching a new high performance car is not an easy task, even for a well established brand.

What one would say then if it's a whole new line-up that is going to be launched, as planned by the McLaren Group?

The mission might not be simple, but isn't this the very essence of any daring challenge, especially when the major economies are going through one of the toughest crises that the world has known since the late twenties of the last century?

Like prosperous times, difficult ones are not eternal. They end one day or another. And this is the first argument in favour of the new McLaren MP4-12C, which is not short of other rational qualities to support its claims of a special status within its category, having structural differences which go beyond gadgets.

First, the category where the new MP4-12C will fit when its goes on sale in 2011, is what McLaren calls the core segment of high-performance sports car, those sold from around GB£125,000 to £175,000, (EUR 139,000 to 195,000 at today's value) such as the new Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911 Turbo, Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB9.

McLaren MP4-12C: front view with open dihedral doors.

McLaren MP4-12C: profile.

McLaren MP4-12C: side - rear view.

All parts of the MP4-12C are designed by McLaren, and not a single one has come from any other manufacturer’s parts bin.

Precisely, the McLaren MP4-12C aims the bring into this ‘core’ segment, technology (such as the Carbon MonoCell chassis) and performance that are more related to the ultimate sector, where where the McLaren F1 entered in 1993, followed later by the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Bugatti Veyron, the Porsche Carrera GT or Ferrari Enzo.

Since the two-seat mid-engine MP4-12C brings the Carbon MonoCell chassis to this core segment, it goes without saying that having an 80-kg carbon fibre chassis structure means that the 600bhp twin-turbocharged, 3.8-litre, 90° V8 McLaren ‘M838T’ engine will have such a low weight-to-power ratio that its performance should logically introduce exceptional standards in handling, ride, performance, as well as safety,  economy and emissions.

Even more significantly in these market segments, all the parts of the MP4-12C (from the engine right down to the tailor-made switches and buttons) are bespoke, designed exclusively by McLaren, and not a single one has come from any other manufacturer’s parts bin.

 Plans

Before getting into the details, it is also worth mentioning that the MP4-12C is only the first of a new range of high performance cars to come from McLaren Automotive, the independent car division based at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England.

What makes Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman so optimistic despite the recent economic downturn?

By the time the 12C is launched in 2011, Dennis and his team expect the economic conditions to be much improved.

Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing Director.

Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive MD: the supply of the 12C is expected to be around 1,000 unit in its first year, in a market which grew from 8,000 sales in 2000 to over 28,000 in 2007.

As explained by Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing Director, the supply of the 12C is expected to be around 1,000 unit in its first year, representing 3.5 per cent of the core market, which grew from 8,000 sales in 2000 to more than 28,000 in 2007 (more about this niche market).

With twenty years of sports car design, engineering and production, the McLaren MP4-12C is the beginning of Dennis' plan to make a full line-up of "technology-led and customer-focused performance cars for the 21st century".

Dennis knows his subject too well, as McLaren’s automotive division has already built the McLaren F1 supercar (1993-1998) followed by the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren luxury supercar (2003-2009).

It is worth mentioning in this context that the new super sports car from Mercedes-Benz, the SLS AMG, will be made by the German company and its tuning subsidiary, Mercedes-AMG GmbH. The market launch of the SLS AMG is scheduled for April 2010, at a sales price starting from EUR 177,310 (incl. 19% VAT), equivalent to about GB£159,000. The SLS AMG, which has an aluminium spaceframe body with gullwing doors, received its world premiere at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show (17-27 September).

 Carbon MonoCell

Having pioneered the use of carbon composite construction in Formula One with the 1981 MP4/1 model, McLaren brought carbon fibre to road cars for the first time with the 1993 McLaren F1, and then built on this experience with a carbon fibre chassis and body on the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

Carbon MonoCell of the McLaren MP4-12C.

Carbon MonoCell: < 80 kg, allowing for lighter body panels.

However, while the carbon chassis have remained the preserve of the most expensive exotic cars, the MP4-12C introduces now the advantages of carbon composite - light weight, longevity and high strength and torsional rigidity – to a more affordable sector through a new one-piece moulding application.

But how did it become more affordable?

The new carbon fibre production process pioneered by McLaren allows now the MonoCell to be produced to high quality standards, in a single piece, in four hours, compared to the dozens of carbon components (and dozens of production hours) that normally feature in a carbon fibre chassis structure.

The finished MonoCell emerges in one piece, without any need to bond different parts to make a whole structure, as is the case with other carbon fibre cars. The MonoCell is also hollow, saving further weight. McLaren says that the integrity of production ensures the location of suspension and ancillaries is accurate to the finest of tolerances.

The MP4-12C name

MP4’ is the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. It stands for McLaren Project 4, resulting from the merger of Ron Dennis’ Project Four organisation with Team McLaren Ltd in 1980 to form McLaren Racing.

The ‘12’ refers to McLaren’s internal Vehicle Performance Index through which it rates key performance criteria both for competitors and for its own cars. The criteria combine power, weight, emissions, and aerodynamic efficiency. The coalition of these values delivers an overall performance index that has been used as a benchmark throughout the car’s development.

The ‘C’ refers to Carbon, highlighting the unique application of carbon fibre technology to the future range of McLaren sports cars.

Since weight affects acceleration, speed, handling, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, McLaren Automotive engineers attacked weight saving from several angles:

- weighing less than 80 kg, the Carbon MonoCell, reduces the weight of the structure and allows for the use of much lighter weight body panels,

- the close position of the driver and passenger allows a narrower, lighter body while giving improved visibility with a clearer perception of the car’s extremities,

- brakes with forged aluminium hubs save 8 kg and weigh even less than the optional carbon ceramic brakes,

The McLaren advance

Nine years after the merger of Ron Dennis’ Project Four organisation with Team McLaren Ltd to form McLaren Racing, Dennis co-founded in 1989 the McLaren Cars, which designed and manufactured the F1 road car of 1994.

Between 1993 and 1998, the company built 107 McLaren F1: 79 road cars and 28 cars homologated for racing. The first cars were delivered in 1994, retailing at a price of GB£634,500 (EUR 706,000 at today's value).

Now renamed McLaren Automotive, the company has been producing the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren sports car on behalf of Daimler AG, from 2003 to the end of this year.

McLaren Automotive has built over 2100 SLRs and is currently building a limited edition run of 75 Stirling Moss derivatives (at EUR 750,000 / GB£674,000 each) which have all been ordered by existing SLR owners. This makes the SLR the most successful super sports car by sales, considering it price starting at EUR 460,000 (around GB£414,000) for the coupé and EUR 500,000 (GB£450,000) for the roadster.

The McLaren Group is owned today by Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) 40%; Bahraini Mumtalakat Holding Company 30%; Tag Group (Mansour Ojjeh) 15%; Ron Dennis 15%.

The McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), which opened in 2004, houses McLaren Automotive and five businesses that form the McLaren Group: McLaren Racing, McLaren Electronics, McLaren Marketing, McLaren Applied Technologies and Absolute Taste (catering).

- lightweight exhaust pipes exit straight out the rear of the car, minimizing their length and weight,

- airflow-assisted airbrake deployment reduces weight of the airbrake activation system,

- the downsized engine coupled to lightweight compact Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG) minimize vehicle length, weight and polar moment of inertia,

- significant weight was pared off the alloy wheels through intensive finite element analysis of wall thicknesses,

- the engine cooling radiators were mounted at the rear, as close to the engine as possible, to minimize the pipework as well as the fluids contained within them.

Carbon fibre body panels have also been considered to reduce weight, said Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive Programme Director, "but they would have added little benefit as the new one-piece carbon MonoCell provides all of the torsional strength the body needs. The costs saved [by doing without carbon fibre body panels] were used elsewhere for greater weight reduction and efficiencies overall.”

Motor racing origins

The McLaren story started with motor racing, with a heritage that spans 45 years during which time it has won 163 Grands Prix, 12 F1 World Championship Driver’s titles and eight Constructor’s titles.

McLaren's achieved the most dominant season ever in F1, with 15 wins out of 16 races in 1988,  just as it dominated the Can-Am championship winning five titles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It also won three Indianapolis 500 races and the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours at its first attempt in 1995.

In fact, the British company remains the only manufacturer to win the F1 World Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans – the ’triple crown’ of the motor sport world.

McLaren adds another important argument, for car collectors this time: carbon composites do not degrade over time like metal structures fatigue. A 15-year-old McLaren F1 has none of the tiredness or lack of structural integrity that afflicts traditional cars that have suffered a hard life. Hence, McLaren expects the 12C should feel as good as new in this respect for decades.

The 12C MonoCell also offers greater occupant safety, since it acts as a safety survival cell, as it does for a Formula One car.

The lightweight aluminium alloy front and rear structures are designed to absorb impact forces in a crash and can be replaced relatively easily. Aluminium extrusions and castings are jig welded into the finished assembly and bolted directly to the MonoCell, unlike cars with full aluminium chassis, where the structure has to absorb the impact, which implies more fundamental damage (and expense) to the whole structure, including the passenger cell, in a major accident.

 Engine

McLaren ‘M838T’: twin-turbo 3.8 litre, 90° V8 engine.

Bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’: twin-turbo 3.8 litre, 90° V8.

Unique in its class by offering carbon technology, the 12C should also have the highest specific power output as well as power- and torque-to-weight ratios.

Developed specifically for the 12C, the bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’ is a twin- turbocharged, 3.8 litre, 90° V8 engine which revs to 8,500rpm, and features dual variable valve timing, producing around 600bhp (447 kW) and 600Nm (443 lb-ft, 61.2 kg-m) of torque, with 80 per cent of torque (480 Nm, 354 lb-ft, 49 kg-m) available at below 2,000rpm.

A dry sump and flat plane crankshaft allow the engine to be placed very low in the chassis, lowering the centre of gravity and improving handling responses. Composite cam covers and intake manifolds also reduce weight and heat transmission into the charge air, as well as Nikasil-coated aluminium liners for further weight reduction.

McLaren MP4-12C: side - rear view from top.

Mid-engine design concentrates weight within the wheelbase and towards the centre of gravity, improving cornering.

McLaren explains that the more weight is concentrated within the wheelbase and towards the centre of gravity, the lower the polar moment of inertia, thereby improving corner turn in.

High level exhaust pipes exit through a mixing box, rather than a conventional and heavier silencer box. All parts of the exhaust system up to the mixing box feature sandwich layer heat-shielding that helps reduce heat from the engine bay. In just an 18mm gap, exhaust gas temperatures are reduced from 900°C to 300°C.

McLaren claims that taking power and emissions in combination (measured by horsepower to CO2 ratio), the 12C will deliver its power at greater efficiency than any other car on the market with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids.

 Gearbox

The engine drives the rear wheels through two wet clutches and a McLaren-developed seven speed dual clutch gearbox, the Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG).

McLaren MP4-12C: dashboard and console.

The design of the steering wheel is small, tactile and ‘clean’ from any distracting buttons. The interior does not suffer an over abundance of switches, knobs and dials.

The Seamless Shift technology offers variable programmes ranging from Normal for road use and Sport for quicker changes, right up to a High Performance mode. Additional Automatic, Launch Control and Winter modes can be selected, the latter changing all electronic functions to suit low friction conditions.

While no traditional manual transmission is offered (the car is designed with a two pedal layout to make it narrower and lighter), McLaren points out that the SSG is lightweight, compact in design and positioned in the best location. The input shaft lies very close to the output shaft to help position the entire powertrain low in the vehicle. Twin secondary shafts ensure any rear axle weight overhang is minimised and rear crash performance is uncompromised. The bespoke SSG is further complemented by an entirely new control system.

Gears are changed using a Formula 1 style rocker shift that pivots in the centre of the steering wheel. It is actuated on either side of the steering wheel (pulling right changes up, pulling left down).

McLaren MP4-12C: F1-style rocker shift.

Gears are changed using a rocker shift that pivots in the centre of the steering wheel. The rocker moves with the steering wheel, rather than being mounted on the steering column.

As with the McLaren Formula 1 car, a shift can be actuated either by pulling or by pushing on the rocker. The rocker moves with the steering wheel, rather than being mounted on the steering column.

The rocker itself incorporates an innovative feature designed by McLaren engineers and called Pre-Cog, for pre-cognition, literally ‘foreknowledge’. The rocker on the 12C has two positions with a slightly different haptic (related to the sense of touch) for each. When the driver applies first pressure to the rocker, the gearbox gets ready to swap ratios, thereby saving time – latency – between the message being sent and the gearbox being primed to act. The second pressure confirms that the gear should be changed and the torque handover is completed in milliseconds.

McLaren MP4-12C: instruments and rev counter.

Instrument cluster: large tachometer and digital speed readout.

“What Pre-Cog actually does is initiate the shift process by priming the clutch and torque handover – it takes significant time out of the process,” explained Dick Glover, Technical Director McLaren Automotive.

“It’s a little bit like the first pressure on a camera shutter button. There’s no requirement for the driver to use it but it is more satisfying and engaging if you do. The SSG also promotes seamless shifting in which the driver doesn’t have to reduce engine power at all – rather than the gearshift slowing you down, it actually speeds the car up by recovering the energy of the crank spinning as it drops engine speed,” he said.

 Chassis

The suspension is based on double wishbones with coil springs. The dampers are interconnected hydraulically and provide adaptive responses depending on both road conditions and driver preference.

McLaren claims that the suspension for the MP4-12C offers new levels of roll control and grip, an almost flat cornering attitude, depending on the programme selected, while delivering compliance and ride comfort closer to an executive saloon car, thanks to the Proactive Chassis Control system.

McLaren MP4-12C: proactive chassis control system.

Proactive system: adjustable roll control, instead of mechanical anti-roll bars, allowing the 12C to maintain precise roll control under heavy cornering while decoupling the suspension in a straight line for wheel articulation and compliance.

The Proactive system features adjustable roll control (instead of mechanical anti-roll bars), allowing the 12C to maintain precise roll control under heavy cornering while decoupling the suspension in a straight line for wheel articulation and compliance.

Three suspension modes can be selected on the Active Dynamics Panel. As with the powertrain adjustment, there is a ‘normal’, a ‘sport’ mode and a high performance mode which adjusts numerous parameters in the system.

The Proactive suspension protects suspension bushes from wear and tear, with McLaren’s research suggesting a potential for up to ten times more mileage than on some competitor cars. Also, the hydraulic pump that supports the dampers is the same pump that supports the electro-hydraulic steering system.

 Brake Steer

The Brake Steer feature is another development of an electronic system used by McLaren’s 1997 MP4/12 Formula 1 car. It brakes the inside rear wheel when the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius.

Under normal circumstances the front would wash away wide of the apex the driver wants to touch: the car is understeering.

Brake Steer prevents this by assessing the steering angle to determine the driver’s intended course and applies the inside rear brake to increase yaw rate and resume the desired course, bringing the nose of the car back on line.

McLaren MP4-12C brakes.

McLaren developed a composite braking system with a forged aluminium bell that attaches to the cast iron disc. This solution saves 8 kg. Carbon ceramic brakes will be optional, but the standard composite brake system remains lighter.

The system also works on acceleration out of a corner when the inside rear has a tendency to spin, allowing the driver to put power down more quickly. It controls what a limited slip differential would do, but without its weight.

 Brakes

For the brakes as such, McLaren has developed a composite braking system that uses a forged aluminium bell that attaches to the cast iron disc. This solution maintained the brake feel of a cast iron disc while saving 8 kg. Carbon ceramic brakes will be available as an option, offering fade-free braking performance during high performance driving, but the standard composite brake system remains actually lighter than the larger carbon ceramic units.

 Wheels

The design of the standard cast alloy wheels (19” front, 20” rear) was also driven by light weight objectives: the styling was agreed in concept, then the wheel was tuned using finite element analysis to take a further 4 kg out of the wheels. Bespoke Pirelli tyres have been developed with McLaren specifically for the 12C.

 Electronic aids

An array of electronic aids is fitted to assist and protect the less-experienced driver, or when conditions become too challenging. These include ABS, ESP, ASR traction control, Electronic Brake Distribution, Hill Hold and Brake Steer. The level of intervention varies according to the handling mode selected.

 Cabin

McLaren MP4-12C: front seats with dashboard and console.

Moving the driver and passenger closer together.

While the MP4-12C is compact outside, its interior has to offer the driver and passenger comfort and driving enjoyment.

“With the interior, we have created a real step forward in the packaging of a sports car. Moving the driver and passenger closer together improves driving control and moving the pedals improves the problem of wheel well intrusion. We also repackaged many of the major components that normally sit under the dashboard to allow for more space and a unique form. Packaging is one of the 12C’s really strong points,” said Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive Design Director.

The interior is space efficient and is designed to accommodate 98th percentile adults in comfort. This has been partly achieved by the 7 inch touch screen telematics system oriented in ‘portrait’ mode, that is vertical, compared to the usual horizontal landscape’ orientation. McLaren says that this is more intuitive than ‘landscape’ orientation, as we read down a page and our mobile telephones and other personal information devices are configured this way.

McLaren MP4-12C: 7 inch touch screen telematics system is oriented in ‘portrait’ mode, compared to the usual landscape’ orientation.

The 7 inch touch screen telematics system is oriented in ‘portrait’ mode, compared to the usual landscape’ orientation.

The innovative information centre provides all normal telematics functions such as audio, navigation and telephony, with new features. Meridian, the renowned producer of state-of-the-art sound systems, is developing its first ever in-car system for the 12C.

For outside visibility, the low cowl gives a full six degrees downward vision from eye height and allows the driver a clear view of the front of the car. The view of the top of the front wings, with the highest point positioned directly above the centre of the wheel, also facilitates exact placement of the 12C in a corner.

The design of the steering wheel is small, tactile and ‘clean’ from any distracting buttons, a key element for a high performance car that draws its inspiration so directly from Formula 1. That is why the McLaren 12C’s interior does not suffer an over abundance of switches, knobs and dials.

Likewise, McLaren’s racing expertise was also the inspiration for the steering wheel design with an advanced and compact airbag.

Like the McLaren F1, the driver has controls on both sides, which allows for a rational positioning of switches of the climate controls (on each door console), telematics (on the upper centre console), Active Dynamics Panel (middle centre console) and the transmission and minor controls (tunnel console).

All groups of controls are accessible within a hand’s distance from the steering wheel. The instrument cluster has a large central tachometer and digital speed readout. Behind the steering wheel (and moving with it) is a Formula 1-inspired rocker for changing gears. It has been engineered to deliver a Formula 1 haptic. The science of haptics has been applied to all the controls in order to generate a consistent and high quality feel.

 Active Dynamics Panel

The Active Dynamics Panel provides two rotary switches and four push buttons: ‘Start/Stop’, ‘Active’ (to activate all the dynamic controls), ‘Winter’ (sets powertrain, suspension and electronic aids to maximum driver support) and ‘Launch’ (initiates the launch control system).

McLaren MP4-12C:

Active Dynamics Panel: 2 rotary switches and 4 push buttons.

The two rotary switches control ‘powertrain’ and ‘handling’, each having three position settings for normal, sport and high performance driving modes.

Powertrain’ changes throttle response, gearbox strategy, shift times and impulse (how much one can feel the gearchange). The coaxial ‘Manual’ button controls use of manual gearbox functions.

Handling’ changes stability control, steering weight, suspension firmness and roll stiffness. The coaxial ‘Aero’ button allows the driver to deploy the airbrake for increased downforce.

The seat is electrically-adjustable for height. The interior has stowage space with a shelf behind the seats enough for small bags and a ‘floating’ centre console that leaves space beneath for a large storage container.

The interior’s features will include airbags, fully automatic dual zone climate control, sophisticated telematics and audio systems, parking sensors, trip computer, cruise control and electric memory seats.

 Design

Frank Stephenson: McLaren Automotive Design Director.

Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive Design Director: All the fins, vents and the flat underbody are there for a reason. No styling addenda have been incorporated for appeal or style alone.

The McLaren MP4-12C has been designed around a demanding mechanical package that puts emphasis on aerodynamics, compact dimensions, performance and efficiency, practicality and comfort.

The air flow has been managed to support all performance figures and light weight targets. For example, placing the radiators adjacent to the engine keeps the car narrow and reduces weight. However, this results in a huge challenge of ensuring ample air flow to the radiators. Hence, the large side air scoops and integrated turning vanes are completely functional.

Frank Stephenson says: “All the fins, vents and the flat underbody are there for a reason. No styling addenda have been incorporated for appeal or style alone. This aerodynamic purity explains why this car can hit top speed with great stability without resorting to tea tray wings or deep front air dams. I really feel that the styling communicates the 12C’s engineering integrity and technical benefits and it is this purity that makes the design timeless.”

 Front

McLaren MP4-12C: front - side view.

Very low front since it does not have to house engine radiators.

The front is very low since it does not have to house large engine cooling radiators, two of which are mounted longitudinally at the sides. This offers the added benefit of segment-leading space for storage under the bonnet.

The face is dominated by large air intakes and bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights inspired by the form of the McLaren logo, which is displayed for the first time on the bonnet of a car.

Illumination from the running lights bleeds into three distinctive gills just above the headlamps. The windscreen is deep and low, with a single weight-saving pantograph wiper blade, as was the F1.

McLaren MP4-12C: pantograph wiper blade.

A single weight-saving pantograph wiper blade, as was the F1.

Stephenson again: “The 12C does not reproduce the F1 design but it... builds on its functionally-driven engineering and design highlights such as the large, deep windscreen and the low cowl to give the driver good visibility for accurate placement on the road. Any similarities are there for a reason.”

From the side, the dominant air inlets help direct cooling air over the side radiators. Likewise, the scalloped shoulders drive airflow to the airbrake, enhancing its effectiveness in the aerodynamic package.

 Dihedral doors

The other prevailing design characteristics are the dihedral doors (a hereditary gene from the McLaren F1).

McLaren MP4-12C: dihedral doors, open, side view.

In tighter parking situations, dihedral doors allow ingress and egress in a situation where another car has parked too closely.

The concept of dihedral doors is simply to allow the driver and passenger to get into and out of the car by moving the door forward and upwards, as well as allowing a smaller door opening than would otherwise be necessary.

In tighter parking situations, dihedral doors allow ingress and egress in a situation where another car has parked too closely. In traditional door systems a huge parking space is necessary to permit the doors to open wide enough.

With its single hinge, the dihedral doors offer weight-saving features and are unique to the McLaren brand. As is the unique handle-free door entry system.

 Rear

The rear end is open to ensure efficient evacuation of hot air from the engine bay and the exhaust pipes exit high and in the centre. The engine itself is visible through the top deck.

McLaren MP4-12C: illuminated LED tail light clusters.

The LED tail light clusters are only visible when illuminated.

The LED tail light clusters are hidden behind horizontal black bars. They are only visible when illuminated: the two upper bars light up as LED brake lights and turn indicators.

 Aerodynamics

As high downforce helps maintain traction, cornering ability and stability while low drag aids top speed and acceleration, the 12C has a completely flat underbody and smooth upper body surfaces to yield a highly effective drag coefficient and generate very high levels of balanced downforce at high speed.

A nose splitter gives more downforce at the front while guide vanes near the front and rear wheels help to increase downforce with minimal drag penalty and direct air towards the diffuser at the rear.

 Airbrake

McLaren MP4-12C: active Airbrake down.

McLaren MP4-12C: active Airbrake up.

The active Airbrake deploys hydraulically under braking, or when the driver wants to trim the car for increased downforce by using a switch on the Active Dynamics Panel.

The active Airbrake is another innovation that made its debut on the F1 supercar and was also incorporated into the SLR. It deploys hydraulically under braking, or when the driver wants to trim the car for increased downforce by using a switch on the Active Dynamics Panel.

Under braking, a piston operated by transmission hydraulics raises the Airbrake to a certain angle. Once a small amount of wing angle is pushed into the airflow, the centre of aerodynamic pressure forces the bottom of the ‘wing’ back. In this way, it raises the airbrake to maximum angle using the ‘free’ airflow rather than relying on another mechanical device.

The Airbrake moves the centre of pressure of the 12C rearwards, whereas it would normally move forward under braking. It improves yaw stability under braking and allows the brakes to work more effectively due to increased downforce. It is also a weight-saving solution that took almost 50 per cent of weight out of the mechanism.

 Market segments

Despite the recent economic downturn, Ron Dennis firmly believes that "now is the right time for McLaren Automotive to become a full line high performance sports car manufacturer.” By the time the 12C is launched in 2011, the crisis should be behind us, or at worst, at its end.

Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman in the McLaren MP4-12C.

Ron Dennis: now is the right time for McLaren Automotive to become a full line high performance sports car manufacturer.

“Worldwide demand for high performance cars is strong, in large part because of great cars from great competitors. With McLaren joining that list... we are offering is a new approach to the market, through a skilled, solid, debt-free and risk-managed company. McLaren is right to take this step now and support future growth of high-technology manufacturing and engineering jobs in the UK,” Dennis declared.

McLaren divides the market into segments that encompass both more comfort–orientated GT cars and the hard-edged supercars for road and track use:

A - The ‘core’ segment runs from around GB£125,000 to £175,000, (EUR 139,000 to 195,000 at today's value), covering models such as the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911 Turbo, Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB9.

B - The next segment up is the ‘high’ category with prices ranging from £175,000 to £250,000 (EUR 195,000 to 278,000) and consists largely of front-engined GT cars such as Ferrari’s 599 GTB and 612, with just one mid-engined contender, the Lamborghini Murcielago.

C - The highest segment is the ‘ultimate’ group, a sector more or less initiated by the McLaren F1 in 1993 and now populated by a select group of cars including the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, Bugatti Veyron, and cars from the likes of Pagani and Koenigsegg that followed legends such as the Porsche Carrera GT and Ferrari Enzo.

Alan Foster, McLaren Automotive Production Director.

A. Foster, McLaren Automotive Production Director: large scale lean production logic in a small-scale, flexible operation.

With the MP4-12C, McLaren aims to bring technology and performance exclusive to the ‘ultimate’ sector into the ‘core’ segment.

To achieve this, the McLaren Production System, which is championed by Alan Foster, the company's Automotive Production Director, brings a large scale lean production mentality (building on McLaren's recent success of record production volumes and quality for a luxury supercar with the SLR, with over 2,100 units made) into a small-scale, flexible operation.

 Distribution

 

In addition to the establishment of a new company, a new production plant, a new range of high performance cars starting with an all-new model engineered and developed in house... McLaren is also building a global network of retail distribution partners.

McLaren Technology Centre.

McLaren Technology Centre, production line.

The McLaren Technology Centre (top photo) houses McLaren Automotive, McLaren Racing, McLaren Electronics, McLaren Marketing, McLaren Applied Technologies and Absolute Taste (catering). Above, the McLaren production line.

Since the beginning of the 12C project, key targets aimed also to offer a high performance sports car that is not only enjoyable to drive, but also to own; a car that is efficient to run and own, retains its residual value and ensures its owner becomes a repeat purchaser.

Early planning indicates that 25 per cent of sales will be made in the UK, 25 per cent in the USA and the remainder to the rest of the world, notably Germany and mainland Europe, the Middle East and some Far Eastern countries.

As was the case with the McLaren F1 and SLR, customers will be able to specify bespoke items, interiors and special equipment for their own 12C.

The design, development and manufacture and distribution of current and future McLaren road cars are under the responsibility of Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing Director.

Sheriff worked previously for McKinsey and Company (from the late 80's) as a strategic management consultant, dealing with a number of automotive and non-automotive clients in the U.S. and Europe. He joined Fiat Auto in 1995, and was promoted two years later to Executive Director of Product Development for all Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia cars and commercial vehicles. In 2002, he was promoted to Vice President Marketing for Fiat, before joining McLaren in 2003.

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